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Community remembers math teacher Dave Reichenberger from Appleton East

APPLETON — There are a few things that stand out about David Reichenberger’s classroom at Appleton East: knickknacks and trinkets left by students over the years, small murals painted by students and, perhaps most notably, a wealth of sketches by the popular math teacher.

Some are almost hyper-realistic, like the image of Reichenberger sitting behind a large desk with little musical notes playing from his headphones. Others show Reichenberger as a cartoon, complete with a smile and little sayings that he keeps saying.

“It’s a good symbol of how the kids saw him,” said Corey Otis, an English teacher who worked with Reichenberger for several years.

“It immediately sends the message that he is someone who is relaxed and can be trusted. That’s part of what made him a great teacher: his rapport with the children.”

Now these portraits are also a testament to how much the Oshkosh native, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack last week, will be missed.

“People talk about the fragility of life and how every day is a gift, but this just shows how true that is,” Otis said. “You really can’t take anything for granted.”

As many of the above accounts show, Reichenberger was known for his collection of jokes and “jokes of the day.” He never repeated the same joke in a school year. Sometimes, when he ran out of material, he would call his mother, put her on speaker, and have her tell the class a joke.

He also made up silly stories and playfully teased both his students and his family. He once told his students that his wife, Ann, held the Guinness World Record for the largest feet. One student searched the Internet for confirmation of his claim, she said.

“He was a big kid himself; he loved talking to the kids,” Ann said. “And he could do pages of math that I would look at and give me a headache. It was natural for him, it wasn’t work for him.”

However, it wasn’t always Reichenberger’s plan to become a teacher. He studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. One of his professors saw how likeable Reichenberger was and recommended that he become a teacher.

“It clicked,” Ann said. “Very few people get to work in a field that they enjoy, that they really love, and he was one of those people.”

For others it was obvious that Reichenberger had made the right choice.

“As the head of the math department, when I think about the teachers I want to introduce to the kids, I want them to be like Dave: smiling, friendly and happy,” says John McClellan, who headed the department during the roughly 10 years Reichenberger worked at the high school.

In addition to his work at East, Reichenberger also taught at Kiel eSchool, a year-round virtual charter school. He previously taught at other institutions, including high school classes at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

But as hard as Reichenberger worked, he didn’t let teaching take away from time with his family, and that included time with his beloved cats. When his sons, Zach and Ike, were young, they often went on camping trips. Reichenberger hunted and fished with his children, just as his father had done with him. As the children grew older and more independent, the family took longer vacations, Ann said.

“He always told me that the most important moment in your life is the moment you are in right now, so we did a lot of fun things,” Ike said.

That’s not the only lesson Reichenberger taught his family and friends. Many remember Reichenberger as a sounding board and voice of reason who was respected throughout the department. When Reichenberger was frustrated, he would voice his opinions and then let them go, and he encouraged others to do the same, said Anthony Palma, a math teacher at Appleton East.

“One thing he always told me was, ‘Don’t worry about things you can’t change.’ That really helped me when he died so suddenly,” Zach said.

Regardless of how one knew Reichenberger, there is always one common feeling: he was a special person.

“People like Dave Reichenberger don’t come along often in life, so when it happens you have to embrace it,” McClellan said.

Madison Lammert is a Report for America corps member covering child care and early childhood education across Wisconsin for the Appleton Post-Crescent. To contact her, email [email protected] or call 920-993-7108. Please support the journalism that informs our democracy with a Tax-deductible donation to Report for America By visiting postcrescent.com/RFA.